How to Train Your Dog to Eat by Himself

Medium
1-4 Weeks
General

Introduction

There is nothing worse than a dog who refuses to eat on his own. When you have a "fussy" pup, it can feel as though you have little to no control over when he eats, how much he eats, or for that matter when he eats. When your pup is little, hand feeding him might be okay, but you need to get past this point as quickly as possible to ensure you have more control over his eating habits as well as his potty habits.

There is a controversy over which is better: "free feeding", in which there is always food in your dog's bowl that allows him to eat whenever he feels like it or "meal feeding", where you establish specific meal times when your dog is expected to eat. There are good and bad points for both types of feeding styles. and most vets recommend you put your dog on a feeding schedule. Not only does this help to establish you in the dominant role, but it also makes it much easier for you to observe his eating habits and how much he is or isn't eating.

Defining Tasks

As a human being, you are used to eating on a relatively set schedule of three meals a day. While your dog may not need three meals a day, it is important for him to know when he is supposed to be eating and to do so at that time. Here in the U.S., we face a growing epidemic of human obesity and at the same time, there is a growing problem with canine obesity. By taking full control of when your dog eats and how much he eats, you can help prevent this from happening to your furry friend.

Another beautiful thing about teaching your dog to eat by himself at set times is that this can help to regulate his bowel movements. The big thing to remember is that you are teaching your dog to recognize when it is meal time and that he doesn’t have time to waste once you put the bowl down in front of him. Bear in mind that if you allow your dog to "free eat" or "graze" it could take several days before you realize he is not eating properly.

Getting Started

You won't need a ton of supplies to get started training your dog to eat by himself. The most important thing to remember is that it can take a little while for your pup to make the switch from being hand fed to eating out of his bowl when it is meal time. You will need:

  • A food bowl: Every dog needs his own food bowl.
  • Food: Stock up on the food you plan to feed him.
  • Treats: You will need some way to reward your dog for getting things right.
  • Patience: it takes time to train your dog to learn to eat on his own when it is dinner time.
  • The right place: To make this training more successful, you need to have a specific spot to put his food dish every time. Placing it in different places will only lead to confusion and problems with getting him to eat.
  • Praise: You can never give your pup too much praise when he gets new training right.

The Sit First Method

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Most Recommended
1 Vote
Step
1
Dish it up
Pour your dog's food into his bowl and raise it over his head.
Step
2
Sit
Command your dog to sit.
Step
3
Serve
Place bowl in front of him on the floor. If he begins to eat, praise him.
Step
4
Repeat
Repeat this process until each time you put his food in front of him he eats.
Recommend training method?

The Count to Five Method

ribbon-method-1
Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Invitation
Start by asking your dog, "Are you hungry?"
Step
2
First course
Place half the amount of food you want your dog to eat daily in his bowl.
Step
3
Serve it up
Hold the bowl in front of his nose and then place it in the special spot reserved for his bowl.
Step
4
Countdown
Count to five, if he starts eating let him finish and give him plenty of praise.
Step
5
Wait for later
If not, pick up the bowl and wait for 12 hours before trying again.
Step
6
Try again
Repeat the process in another 12 hours until he eats on his own each time you place his bowl on the floor. Be sure to give him tons of praise each time he eats until the process becomes a routine.
Recommend training method?

The Eat on Command Method

ribbon-method-3
Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Dish it up
Fill your pup's bowl with food.
Step
2
Dinner bell
Give your dog the ‘come’ command, assuming he didn't come running at the sound of food being poured into his bowl.
Step
3
Table manners
Have your dog sit and slowly lower the food dish to the ground in front of him. If he tries to get to the bowl before it hits the ground, raise it back up and make him sit again.
Step
4
Repeat
Repeat until your dog sits and waits patiently until you place the bowl on the ground. Then give him the command ‘eat’ or ‘Okay’. His reward will be his dinner along with plenty of praise.
Step
5
Be consistent
Follow this exact same process each time you feed your dog and he will soon come to understand when it is dinner time and that this is the only time he will be allowed to eat. At this point, you should be able to put the bowl down and walk away while he eats by himself.
Recommend training method?
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Written by Amy Caldwell

Published: 11/19/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
boujee
Yorkie
2 Years
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Question
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boujee
Yorkie
2 Years

After almost 3 years of having him, we can not get him to eat on his own. It is even a challenge to hand feed him.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
943 Dog owners recommended

Hello, I suggest mixing his food with something he likes the night before feeding him. Start with a higher quantity of food he likes and a bit of dog food, then gradually increase the dog food and decrease the food he likes overtime. Test out freeze dried meat dog food toppers, like stella and chewy or nature's variety first. If he likes those, crush them into a powder in a ziplock bag, then place that and some of his dog food in the bag overnight to flavor and scent the food. Feed that regularly if he will eat it, then gradually decrease how much powder you use and increase the dog food slowly in place of it - go slow so that eating the new food has become habit and he doesn't think about it changing gradually so keeps eating it. If he likes the kibble topper, you can also feed something like Ziwi peak or nature's variety raw boost long term - which is composed of freeze dried food or has it mixed in, if that's in your budget. If pup doesn't like the freeze dried stuff, then do the same thing but use things like minced chicken, liver paste, or goats milk mixed with the dog food and refrigerated overnight (you may want to do the goats milk last minute because it will get soggy though). Another option, is to have pup work for all of their kibble. Have pup perform commands and tricks and use the dog food that has been mixed with freeze dried powder from a ziplock bag, as rewards for pup obeying commands. Many dogs are actually more enthusiastic about their food if they have to earn it and consider it a treat. Feed pup entire meal amounts this way so that he is hungry during training in place of the bowl for a while. When you do so, act like the food is treats - you should act like you have a great prize not like you have to temp pup to eat. It may seem opposite but what a dog can't have without working for it, often makes it even more appealing. Finally, it would be worth consulting your vet about this if you haven't done so lately. Picky eating can be due to a medical issue, bacterial imbalance, ingredient allergy, parasite, infection, or many other things. I am not a vet and perhaps your vet could help with that. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Noodle
Dachshund
14 Months
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Question
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Noodle
Dachshund
14 Months

My dog won't eat unless it's hand fed. She will go for days without eating.
How do I teach her to eat from a bowl?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
943 Dog owners recommended

Hello Jordan, If pup is willing to go several days without eating, I would speak with your vet about this. It sounds like there could be an underlying medical cause. I am not a vet. Dogs can be allergic to common ingredients in their food, causing them to avoid eating. There could be a bacterial imbalance making digestion unpleasant. Tooth or GI pain of some kind, parasites or an infection, or some other abnormality, illness, or discomfort. If pup is simply being picky (most picky dogs will give in and eat after two days though, so I would still investigate medical causes), then you can try mixing pup's normal food with something tasty, like a freeze dried meat meal topper, such as Stella and Chewy, crushing it into powder and putting that and pup's kibble into a baggie together overnight to flavor and scent their food like the powder. Goats milk, chicken broth, and liver past (low salt or no salt ideally for anything you add to food regularly) can also be mixed with kibble. Start with enough to get pup interested in the food again. After a couple of weeks of mixing it, once pup is eating well again, slowly decrease the amount of kibble topper or other additive each day, until pup is in the habit of eating their normal food again. Having pup work for their kibble by practicing training and games, with the kibble as treats, can also motivate pup to eat - even though it seems counter-intuitive, having pup work for their food can actually motivate a lot of dogs to eat - they see the food as something valuable when they work for it and its rewarding. Once pup is working for their food, having pup do the same thing but giving them dog food stuffed hollow chew toys and other dogs that require them to work, like kong wobble, kongs, easy puzzle toys, and automatic treat dispensing devices. Toys like kong wobbles can even be unscrewed once pup is willingly eating from it, leaving an open bowl on the botton half for pup to eat directly out of again. You might also want to try switching to a different food gradually. The transition should be gradual to avoid an unset stomach, and if pup has any medical issues I would consult your vet before switching. A poor quality food, one pup simply doesn't like, one that has an ingredient pup is allergic to, or is too hard to eat could all be reasons pup isn't eating well. Pup being overweight and overfeeding could also contribute to picky eating. If you have the option, a food like ziwi peak, which is a freeze dried meat food, can be enticing to many very picky dogs without lots of extra work. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Bobo
Chihuahua and Pomeranian
3 Months
0 found helpful
Question
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Bobo
Chihuahua and Pomeranian
3 Months

I have a feeding situation here. My dog wont eat his food unless I put the food on my hands or hand feed him. At first I was worry that he would get sick if he doesnt eat so i kept feeding him by hand. I tried to put him in an empty room with his food but it didnt seem to work. I rather sleep than eat. I gave him his food in a bowl and left it in front of his face, he just snipped and then leave. Also, i bought him 4 different kinds of food. Please give me some advice!!

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
943 Dog owners recommended

Hello Thy, First, some puppies are more interested in food it you feed it in hollow chew toys, things like kong wobbles, and as training treats they earn throughout the day - you can place pup's daily kibble in a baggie to grab from there to measure how much pup is eating. I would also speak with your vet and be sure there isn't something medical going on and pup is being fed the correct amount. Things like an infection or parasites or bacterial imbalance or allergy or tooth problem could all make pup not feel like eating. Most puppies also need several rounds of worming while young, so pup could need another one. Speak with your vet. I am not a vet. Finally, has he been doing this since he arrived? Puppies transition to normal food from milk by eating gruel, which is puppy milk replacer mixed with kibble. If pup was never given gruel between milk and kibble, pup could need that in between step to help them learn to self feed better. At this age, that's not very likely, but I would check with your vet, and their breeder about how they used to eat before coming to you. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Bailey
Borador
10 Months
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Question
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Bailey
Borador
10 Months

He is a rescue. We had him for a few months and he would eat fine with the other dog in the hkouse. But now when it is meal time and I start preparing his food the other dog cannot be around or else he will lunge. They used to be able to eat together without problems but now he gets super excited and I guess it is stressing him out to the point of reacting. He already obeys at the wait command and eats on command. But I don't how to help him feel that he won't starve, that he will always be fed and that no one is taking his food away. He is fine with me touching him and bowl it doesn't effect him.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
943 Dog owners recommended

Hello Celine, I highly recommend teaching pup to go to their crate when they hear you fixing the food, and to wait there until you bring the food to him, then close the door to the crate while he eats inside so that the other dogs can hover around him. This can help manage his behavior to avoid fights, but it can also help him learn to self-regulate and decrease any stress he is feeling about others being able to steal his food. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
BowBow
Yorkshire Terrier
9 Months
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Question
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BowBow
Yorkshire Terrier
9 Months

the first thing I want to teach my puppy is to eat by herself
I also want to teach her the basic tricks like sit, down, stay, leave it, etc...
and I would love to teach her to sleep on her own bed she has 5 beds and still sleeps on mine
also, she seems to have separation anxiety we cant leave her alone for 5 minutes

Alisha Smith
Alisha S., Dog Trainer
239 Dog owners recommended

Hi there. Because separation anxiety is complex, I have a lot of information to send you. With some time and practice, this is something that can be turned around over the next month or so. These tips will help with her not wanting to eat alone as well. As far as basic commands, you can look up "how to" steps for each command and spend about 30 minutes per day working on them with her. The first step in treating separation anxiety is to break the cycle of anxiety. Every time a dog with separation anxiety becomes anxious when their owner leaves, the distress they feel is reinforced until they become absolutely frantic any time they are left alone. Owners should give the dog an acceptable item to chew, such as a long lasting food treat when they go out. The goal is to have the dog associate this special treat with the owner’s departure. Treats might include hollow bones stuffed with peanut butter or soft cheese, drilled out nylon bones, or hollow rubber chew toys such as Kong toys with similar enhancements (place these in the freezer before giving them to your dog to make them last longer). Give the bone to your dog about 15 minutes before preparing to depart. The chew toy should be used only as a reward to offset the anxiety triggered by your departure. Hiding a variety of these delectable food treats throughout the house may occupy the dog so that the owner’s departure is less stressful. In an effort to prevent destructive behavior, many owners confine their dog in a crate or behind a gate. For dogs that display “barrier frustration,” the use of a crate in this way is counterproductive. Many dogs will physically injure themselves while attempting to escape such confinement. Careful efforts to desensitize and counter condition the dog to crate confinement before leaving them alone may be helpful in some cases. However, some dogs rebel against any form of restraint, including restricting barriers and, for them, crate training may never be a positive experience. Crate training and utilizing the crate while people are home can be a positive way to make the crate a safe place. If you utilize it when people are around, your dog won’t necessarily associate the crate with departure and being left alone. Creating nap time in the crate throughout the day can also be helpful. Building Independence Independence training can help fight separation anxiety and loneliness. Independence training can help build confidence and instill obedience. “Doggie Daycare” or hiring a pet sitter may be a better alternative for dogs that are initially resistant to treatment. It can be expensive, but prices vary. Independence training is one of the more important aspects of the program. It involves teaching your dog to “stand on their own four feet” when you are present, with the express intention that their newfound confidence will spill over into times when you are away. You need to make your dog more independent by reducing the bond between both of you to a more healthy level of involvement. Decreasing the bond is the hardest thing for owners to accept. Most people acquire dogs because they want a strong relationship with them. However, you have to accept that the anxiety your dog experiences in your absence is destructive. Essential components of the independence training program are as follows: Your dog can be with you, but the amount of interaction time should be reduced, especially where attention-seeking behaviors are concerned. You should initiate all interactions with your dog, and they shouldn’t be permitted to demand attention. If you give your dog attention every time they whine, it helps to foster the dog’s dependence on you and increases its anxiety in your absence. You should ignore your dog completely when they engage in attention-seeking behavior, and avoid catering to them when they appear to feel anxious. This means no eye contact, no pushing away, and no soothing talk or body language, all of which will reward their attention-seeking mission. Attention is encouraged only when your dog is sitting or lying calmly. The goal is not to ignore your dog, but to stop reinforcing attention-seeking behaviors so that your dog develops a sense of independence. Minimize the extent to which your dog follows you by teaching them to remain relaxed in one spot, such as their bed. To accomplish this, it is helpful if you train them to perform a sit-stay or down-stay while gradually increasing the time that they hold the command and remain at a distance from you. Providing a treat or toy and encouraging individual play time can be helpful. Once your dog has learned basic obedience commands, you can train them to hold long down-stays while you move progressively farther away. First, your dog should be trained to perform a “down-stay” on a mat or dog bed using a specific command, such as “lie down.” Your dog may have to be gently escorted to the designated spot the first few times. Initially, they should be rewarded every 10 seconds for remaining there, then every 20 seconds, 30 seconds, and so on. Once they have figured out what is wanted, you should switch to an intermittent schedule of reinforcement [reward], as this will strengthen the learned response. Each time your dog breaks their “stay,” issue a verbal correction, indicating that there will be no reward, and then escort them back to their bed. First, your dog can be made to “down-stay” while you are in the room. Next, they can be asked to stay when you are outside of the room, but nearby. The distance and time you are away from your dog can be increased progressively until your dog can remain in a down-stay for 20 to 30 minutes in your absence. Your dog should be warmly praised for compliance. Of course, they need to accept the praise without breaking the stay. Your dog should become accustomed to being separated from you when you are home for varying lengths of time and at different times of day. You can set up child gates to deny your dog access into the room you’re occupying (i.e. reading, watching television, or cooking). Instruct your dog to lie down and stay on a dog bed outside the room. As previously mentioned, you can provide an extended-release food treat or toy to keep your dog calm and distracted. Once they are able to tolerate being separated from you by a child gate, you can graduate to shutting the door to the room so your dog cannot see you. Allowing a dog to sleep in bed with the family can increase dependence. If you decide to prevent your dog from sleeping in your bed, there are some steps to take to establish this routine. First, you need to train your dog to sleep in their own bed on the floor in your bedroom. They may have to be taken to their bed several times before they get the message that you really want them to sleep in their own bed. Alternatively, you can train your dog to enjoy sleeping in a crate to prevent unwanted excursions. Do not use a crate if it causes more anxiety and distress for your dog. Once they tolerate sleeping in their own bed in your bedroom, you can move their bed outside of the bedroom and use a child gate or barrier to keep them out. Always remember to reward your dog with praise or a food treat for remaining in their bed. Develop Departure Techniques Many owners erroneously feel that if separation is so stressful, then they should spend more time with their dog before leaving. Unfortunately, this only exacerbates the condition. Everyone in the family should ignore your dog for 15 to 20 minutes before leaving the house and for at least 10 to 20 minutes after returning home. Alternatively, your leaving can be made a highlight of your dog’s day by making it a “happy time” and the time at which they are fed. Departures should be quick and quiet. When departures (and returns) generate less anxiety (and excitement), your dog will begin to feel less tension in your absence. Remember to reward calm behavior. Teach your dog that your departure and return are just normal parts of the day and are not times to be stressed. You should attempt to randomize the cues indicating that you are preparing to leave. Changing the cues may take some trial and error. Some cues mean nothing to a dog, while others trigger anxiety. Make a list of the things you normally do before leaving for the day (and anxiety occurs) and the things done before a short time out (and no anxiety occurs).Then mix up the cues. For example, if your dog is fine when you go downstairs to do the laundry, you can try taking the laundry basket with you when you leave for work. If your dog becomes anxious when you pick up your keys or put on a coat, you should practice these things when you are not really leaving. You can, for example, stand up, put on a coat or pick up your car keys during television commercials, and then sit down again. You can also open and shut doors while you are home when you do not intend to leave. Entering and exiting through various doors when leaving and returning can also mix up cues for your dog. When you are actually leaving, you should try not to give any cues to this effect. Leave your coat in the car and put your keys in the ignition well before leaving. It is important to randomize all the cues indicating departure (clothing, physical and vocal signals, interactions with family members, other pets, and so on). The planned departure technique can be very effective for some dogs. This program is recommended only under special circumstances because it requires that you never leave your dog alone during the entire retraining period, which can be weeks or months. Timing is everything when implementing this program. If your dog shows signs of anxiety (pacing, panting, barking excessively) the instant you walk out of the door, you should stand outside the door and wait until your dog is quiet for three seconds. Then go back inside quickly and reward your dog for being calm. If you return WHEN your dog is anxious, this reinforces your dog’s tendency to display the behavior, because it has the desired effect of reuniting the “pack” members. The goal is for your dog to connect being calm and relaxed with your return. Gradually work up to slightly longer departures 5 to 10 minutes as long as your dog remains quiet, and continue in this fashion. Eventually, you should be able to leave for the day without your dog becoming anxious when you depart. When performed correctly, this program can be very helpful in resolving separation anxiety. Other Treatment Options Obedience Training Obedience training helps to instill confidence and independence in your dog. You should spend 5 to 10 minutes daily training your dog to obey one-word commands. It may be helpful to have training sessions occur in the room where your dog will be left when you are gone. All positive experiences (food, toys, sleep, training, and attention) should be associated with this area of the home. Exercise Your dog should receive 15 to 20 minutes of sustained aerobic exercise once, preferably twice, per day. It is often helpful to exercise your dog before you leave for the day. Exercise helps to dissipate anxiety and provides constructive interaction between you and your dog. It is best to allow your dog 15 to 20 minutes to calm down before you depart. Fetching a ball is good exercise, as is going for a brisk walk or run with your dog on a leash. Even if your dog has a large yard to run in all day, the aerobic exercise will be beneficial since most dogs will not tire themselves if left to their own devices. This is incredibly helpful in dogs that are working breeds that need a job to expend energy and work their brains. Supplements Recently, supplements have been released to the public that can help dogs with anxiety. Purina created a probiotic that has been shown to reduce anxiety and provide a calming effect on some dogs. Your veterinarian may recommend this product for treating anxiety, or other products that contain L-Theanine or L-tryptophan.

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